“A Scoundrel’s Lesson: Trust and Leverage”
September 18, 2016
By John Partridge*
Scripture: Luke 16:1-13 1 Timothy 2:1-7
As we watch the current election process and listen to the daily news, we are regularly bombarded with examples of how not to do things We constantly hear about new ways to rip people off, or business people, banks, or corporations who managed to defraud their customers and one another. And while it is tempting to shake our heads, moan about how evil the world has become, and assume that God’s people have nothing to learn from such schemes, we would often be mistaken. While we should never condone such practices, there are often lessons that we can learn from even the most misguided pursuits. In Luke 16:1-13, Jesus tells a parable about an unscrupulous, rip-off artist that was fired from a management position in a rich man’s organization.
Jesus told his disciples: “There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. 2 So he called him in and asked him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.’
3 “The manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg— 4 I know what I’ll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.’
5 “So he called in each one of his master’s debtors. He asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’
6 “‘Nine hundred gallons of olive oil,’ he replied.
“The manager told him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred and fifty.’
7 “Then he asked the second, ‘And how much do you owe?’
“‘A thousand bushels of wheat,’ he replied.
“He told him, ‘Take your bill and make it eight hundred.’
8 “The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. 9 I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.
10 “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. 11 So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? 12 And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?
13 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”
The manager in the story was not a good manager. He was accused of wasting his employer’s money or belongings, or both. Perhaps he was helping himself to some of them, or perhaps he had just made a few bad investment decisions that caused his employer’s portfolio to suffer. But in either case, we learn pretty quickly that he was dishonest. The confusing part of the story is that the both the employer and Jesus have something good to say about him. Clearly, Jesus describes the man as dishonest, and we know that Jesus is not encouraging anyone to be dishonest, so what is he saying. The scoundrel is commended because he is shrewd. He may be dishonest, but the guy knows how to get things done. Knowing that he was going to lose his job anyway, he used his employer’s wealth to buy him friends that would be indebted to him and who could give him a place to live and food to eat while he tried to figure out where to go and what to do next.
While Jesus isn’t encouraging his followers to be dishonest, what he does say is that we ought to be shrewd. That simply means that we ought to do better at using the things that we have, and the people that we know, and leveraging them to do kingdom work and to bring people into God’s kingdom. Jesus goes on to talk about how trust is earned. We’ve all experienced that and we understand it in the short term here on earth. Most of us realize that you wouldn’t hire a person that steals money from his employer to be your new treasurer. But Jesus says that the stakes are even higher because the trust that you earn on earth now, determines how much God trusts you, both on earth, and in eternity.
The way Jesus spells it out, either you can be trusted, or you can’t. God has given us things to manage, much as the man in the story. We have been given health, wealth, time, friendships, and other resources and God is interested in how we use all of these things to grow his kingdom. According to Jesus, in God’s eyes if you can’t be trusted here on earth, then God doesn’t trust you either. And, if you can’t be trusted, then God will not give you things that you otherwise might have had. In that sense, God is much like an investment advisor who is rearranging his portfolio. Those investments (that would be us) that do well are places where God will invest more. But if those investments aren’t doing that much, then God will invest what he has somewhere else.
And just in case we have forgotten why this is important, let’s read Paul’s words from 1 Timothy 2:1-7.
I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— 2 for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. 3 This is good, and pleases God our Savior, 4 who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. 5 For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave himself as a ransom for all people. This has now been witnessed to at the proper time. 7 And for this purpose I was appointed a herald and an apostle—I am telling the truth, I am not lying—and a true and faithful teacher of the Gentiles.
Jesus Christ is the mediator, between every human being and the perfect, immortal, all-powerful, all-knowing God. Jesus gave his life in order to secure the ransom and rescue of every single human being that has ever lived. And Jesus did that, because he wants all people, every single one of us, to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth.
In telling the story about the unscrupulous manager, Jesus was emphasizing two important points. First, his followers, although called to be honest and truthful, should be more like that manager and use every means at our disposal to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ, to help people come to a knowledge of the truth, and to rescue as many people as possible. And second, Jesus watches each of us to see how well we do with what we have been given, to see how effective we are as managers. While your employer may watch to see how you help his company to make money, God watches to see how trustworthy we are in using the things that he has given to us to make disciples of all people, and of all nations.
May we all live our lives in such a way that we might be found to be faithful, prudent, wise, and yes, even shrewd, in using our resources to rescue the lost and grow the kingdom of God.
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